Whose Sutras? Bridging the Divide of Scholar & Practitioner

Although Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s The Secret of the Yoga Sutra and David Gordon White’s The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography could not be more different in terms of core message and approach, both share the same underlying problem. Essentially, this is that each in its own way replicates the dominant paradigm that divides our studies of the Yoga Sutra (YS) between 1) practitioner-oriented studies that are reverentially devoted to explicating it as a timeless truth, and 2) narrowly empiricist academic studies that are utterly dismissive of the concerns and experiences of practitioners. This split between lived practice and scholarly inquiry is unfortunate in that it narrows the scope of ideas and information in ways that impoverish both.

Gunas: The Three Qualities of Matter

Prakriti is the physical realm – the external realm of our senses. It is what we see, hear, touch, taste and feel. Everything, our nature and behavior – our very minds – are affected by the innate qualities of Prakriti. These principles are called the gunas and there are three of them: sattva, rajas and tamas.

What's the Use of Memory? A Practice of Memory and Saṁskāra

Memory, as Proust reminds us, is not always a reflection of the way things actually were. Indeed, human memory, unlike, say, computer memory, fulfills a different function. The function of memory has been analyzed by both contemporary psychology and in the literature of classical yoga, with some interesting convergences and equally interesting divergences. Here we will examine the purpose of remembering from both the contemporary psychological perspective and the perspective of classical yoga, as exemplified by Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras. The purpose of laying out this framework is to suggest what the yogic practice of memory is, and what it can contribute to the effort toward liberation. 

The Sutras as a Literary Form

In the world of contemporary Western yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is revered as canon, which is to say that the yoga community accepts this collection of philosophical aphorisms as fundamental to yogic practice and as significant in the process of understanding the history of our tradition. This work, the jump-off point for many yoga philosophy conversations, is written in a unique form, characteristic of its time: the sutra.

The Kleshas: 5 Obstacles to Awareness

Once the yogi has had an experience of pure consciousness, the mind continuously strives to attain, over and over again. Attunement to the universal energy of the gunas is only one piece. There is an internal landscape, at the depths of the human mind that must be analyzed, parsed, and deconstructed. This deep psychological work happens at the most subtle level, where thoughts originate and instigate our behaviors and emotions. This exploration is the path to freedom.

Dating the Divine: On Different Yogas

The two historical texts employed by yoga practitioners to navigate the path are the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.  The former promises freedom, or “kaivalya,” from the shackles of embodied existence through the state of samadhi; the latter promises a kind of blissful transcendence of the body-mind conundrum through union with God.  These two texts offer a wealth of information to all who read them and pose an important question: what kind of yoga will you practice?

Introduction to Yoga Psychology from Dhanurdhara Swami

“Is there therapy in the Vedas?” I was a bit taken aback by this inquiry from a young and dedicated yoga practitioner. He had been struggling for years with psychological problems. Although he had embraced a traditional path of yogic transformation, he found the help he needed in a more modern self-help process based on contemporary psychology. As I thought about his inquiry, however, the answer seemed obvious. Rich in a tradition of intact family and community support, those born in traditional India did not need to rely on specialists to sort out mental afflictions caused mostly by social dysfunction. Classical Indian philosophy, especially its traditions of yoga, does, however, have detailed information on the nature of the mind.

Who Was Patanjali? Finding the Teacher between the Myth and the Real

Delving into the ancient yogic texts requires having a strong sense of imagination and a splash—if not more—of suspended of disbelief.  More than mere philosophy, these texts introduce the reader to a symbolic works in which hangs the delicate veil that separates reality from myth. In fact, many ancient yogic texts and their study depend on the very question of the existence of reality.

Calling Bullshit on Enlightenment: A Polemic

Leave enlightenment in the 18th century, where it belongs.  The world does not need a single additional enlightened master.  Rather, we need humble, compassionate interactions — and most of all, we need to be strong enough to tell the truth about our own mistakes, climb down off our high horses, and sincerely acknowledge our contribution to the mess.  A little more of that, and a little less seeking after or claiming of “enlightenment,” wisdom, or spiritual depth, would go a long way to making life mutually bearable; and that is the most enlightened thing that one could wish, by any definition.

Feel It In Your Bones: On the Anavamala

Kashmir Shaivism, a school of Tantric philosophy and technique, offers the analytical tool of the three “malas,” or impurities, to help us cognitively unveil the obstacles to the experience of our infinite nature. These malas are likened to veils obscuring the truth. If they were tangible, physical things, they would be easier to overcome, but the fact is they are ever so subtle!

Who Do You Think You Are?

The Sanskrit word vidya means wisdom or knowledge—the wisdom earned through deep practice and experience. The prefix ‘a’ indicates a lack of, or an absence of.  In the yogic sense, avidya means something that goes far beyond ordinary ignorance.  Avidya is a fundamental blindness about reality.  The core ignorance we call avidya isn’t a lack of information, but an actual inability to experience your deep connection to others, to the source of being and to your true Self.  Avidya has many layers and levels, which operate in different ways. We see it threaded through every aspect of our lives—our survival strategies, our relationships, our cultural prejudices, the things we hunger for and fear. All forms of cluelessness and fogged perception are forms of avidya But behind all of avidya’s manifestations stem from the failure to recognize that essentially you are spirit, and that you share this with every atom of the universe.

The Three Phases of Sadhana

Out of Śiva’s Self-awareness and His joy in that experience, manifestation is created—including us as individuals. The power that Śiva uses to do so, kuṇḍalinī śakti, is the descent of the highest pure Consciousness into form. The practice of Kuṇḍalinī Sādhana is our pathway back to that primordial experience of non-separation. In Tantric practice and tradition, the liberation of kuṇḍalinī is the pathway not only to knowing God but to recognizing that we are God. There are three phases of that realization. The progression of Kuṇḍalinī Sādhana entails the arousal, awakening, and liberating of kuṇḍalinī śakti from our limited capacity and identity in order to realize our highest Self.

Chakras Ancient and Modern: How do we Know what's Real?

A recent article has come to my attention by Chris Wallis concerning his scholarly research into the ancient writings on the chakras, and his debunking of modern or Western writings, including my own.  “The Six Most Important Things You Never Knew About the Chakras” is circulating widely among the yoga community and I am very grateful for the opportunity to open up some juicy dialogue on the subject. I hope we can all benefit from this and that the entire subject of the chakra system continues to evolve as a result. 

Yoga and Ecology: Why Yogis Eat Carrots Rather Than Cows

To live a life according to the wisdom of ecology is the most urgent task for humanity today. What can the philosophy of yoga contribute to this critical challenge? How can we develop an environmental ethics according to yogic principles? What would a sustainable ethics based on yoga look like?

Why Every Asana Practitioner Should Study Ayurveda

Ayurveda takes the philosophical outline of Sankhya and applies it to the art of living, stretching its reaches beyond the confines of ascetic practice to the real world of relationship, career, conflict and even technology.  The gunas (tamasrajas and sattwa) and the five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) converge to explain doshas, or individual constitutions.  This provides a basic categorization process to everything from body type to spiritual practice, disease, human cravings and proclivities.

Om as Guru

Rare is the yogic text or scripture that does not extoll Om as a method of Self realization. You will find there that Om is sometimes referred to with synonyms, such as “Pranava” – sound of the prana; “Udgita” – uprising song; “Shabda” – primordial word; or “Nada” – subtle sound. These readings indicate that Om itself is a universal teacher of the enlightened state.

Consume Your Emotions, Before They Consume You

When we’re overwhelmed by our emotions, the most important—and most difficult—thing to recognize is that we can consume the energy of whatever is gripping us. Otherwise we’re just torn apart, like a fish being mauled by sharks. What’s happening is real and painful, but if we recognize that our emotions function within a narrow level of our consciousness, we can save ourselves from being devoured. Even as we’re being bludgeoned by an experience, we can pull back and tune in to a deeper dimension in ourselves.

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